Women's basketball: Sweden trip propels Utes towards next season
On each possession they played basketball at breakneck speed. Yes, the 24-second shot clock women's hoops are played with in Sweden helped the pace. But the philosophy was different during that week for the Utah women.
In what will be the third year for the Utes in the Pac-12, basketball will be played differently at the Huntsman Center at least on paper in June.
Buoyed by a successful postseason trip abroad, coach Anthony Levrets is determined to play faster in 2013-14. If he has his way, gone will be the games played possession-by possession. With an athletic team set to return in the fall, Levrets wants to turn the Utes loose.
"The trip to Sweden was so good for the program, it opened our eyes to a lot of different things," Levrets said. "We got to sit down and bond with the players. We saw how people lived who were less fortunate than us, so it was a great trip for us on and off the floor. I believe it will help us for what we're trying to do next season. We played games [with scores] in the 90s out there. We were scoring a lot, getting into our offense much quicker than we have in the past."
Anyone who's seen Utah under Levrets knows this would be no small change in philosophy. Not since All-American point guard Leilani Mitchell who currently plays in the WNBA for the New York Liberty have the Utes fielded a team capable of being effective in transition.
That could change this upcoming season. A team that advanced all the way to the WNIT title game returns largely intact sans Iwalani Rodrigues and Rachel Messer. Michelle Plouffe and Taryn Wicijowski form one of the best frontcourts in the conference, with Plouffe being touted as a potential first round WNBA pick next season.
Danielle Rodriguez returns to run the point after starting her entire freshman season. The experience she gained by being thrown directly into the fray should help with her maturation. Levrets is excited about Malia Nawahine, the superstar shooting guard out of Springville High. He thinks she could have the chance to step in and start right away.
"We had such a tough start to conference season last year and we came through that," Wicijowski said. "To survive a lot of difficult close losses and finish the way we did said a lot. I think that we finished the year with some momentum, and I think that can help going into next season."
Expectation is the key word for Utah once winter rolls around. It's a word that will float through campus for the first time since the Utes matriculated to the Pac-12. This is a team that thinks it can reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since its Mountain West Conference swan song. How Utah manages those expectations will dictate its fate in large part.
"If we can avoid injury and if we can get consistent shooting from the perimeter, I think we have a chance to be good," Levrets said. "We have as much size and skill as we've had in a long time, and I'm really excited about the incoming class we have. We have to incorporate the pieces and see how it comes out."
Utah at a glance
Key players • Michelle Plouffe, Taryn Wicijowski, Danielle Rodriguez
Key losses • Iwalani Rodrigues, Rachel Messer
2012-13 highlight • Utah came within one win of the WNIT title
Update • The Utes played in Sweden on a postseason trip.